Rep. Cliff Stearns

U.S. House of Representatives

Withholding Funds from the UN Human Rights Council

An Amendment to the FY07 SSJC Appropriations bill

June 27, 2006


   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I offer an amendment.

   The CHAIRMAN. The Clerk will designate the amendment.

   The text of the amendment is as follows:

   Amendment No. 22 offered by Mr. Stearns:

   Page 16, line 14, after the dollar amount, insert ``(increased by $500,000)''.

   Page 67, line 14, after the dollar amount, insert ``(reduced by $500,000)''.

   The CHAIRMAN. Pursuant to the order of the House of today, the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns) and a Member opposed each will control 5 minutes.

   The Chair recognizes the gentleman from Florida.

   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

   I have an amendment that Mr. McCotter and Mr. King of Iowa have indicated they support this idea. So it is similar to H.R. 5476, legislation which I introduced to withhold the U.S. share of the U.N. Human Rights Council's budget from our regular U.N. dues. It transfers funding from the Council to hire more prison guards in the Federal Prison System.

   Let me just speak briefly I think before I get into the meat of it, to just talk to you about the U.N. Human Rights Council.

   Forty-one years ago this past Monday, 50 nations signed the United Nations Charter. A year later, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt became the first chairwoman of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, to monitor and prevent the abuse of human rights throughout the world.

   Her chairmanship was the last for the U.S. on the Human Rights Commission, which has failed to uphold even the most basic ideals iterated in the U.N. Charter and the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It quickly lost any credibility and allowed tyrannies like Cuba, Sudan, Libya, Belarus, China and Zimbabwe to shield themselves from criticism for their human rights violations.

   Over the life of the Commission, it failed to act or speak out against egregious human rights abuses like the atrocities committed in many of the Communist blocs and the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur. It also failed to condemn countries that sponsor terrorism, including Iran, Syria and North Korea. Instead, the Human Rights Commission repeatedly castigated Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, while overlooking horrific human rights abuses throughout that same Middle East. At least 30 percent of all country-specific resolutions of the Commission critical of human rights were directed at that very small country, Israel. None targeted persistent violators like former Burma, which is now Myanmar, Syria and Zimbabwe and, of course, early on, China.

   The U.N. recently replaced the discredited Commission with a Human Rights Council. For all the superficial changes, it will fail just as miserably as its predecessor. The reforms advocated by democratic nations were rejected, and that is why the United States declined to seek membership this year.

   The Council cannot even prevent human rights violators from being elected to the Council itself. The only supposed protection, that a country can be suspended if two-thirds of the members of the General Assembly agree, is useless since less than half of the General Assembly could agree that Sudan was guilty of human rights violations. The new Council only reduced the number of seats on the Council from 53 to 47, not enough to make the Council more efficient or effective. It also retained geographic quotas that will allow countries like Iran, Venezuela, Sudan and Zimbabwe repeated chances to run for membership.

   This new U.N. Human Rights Council is littered with abysmal human rights abusers. The newly elected membership includes nine countries that the democracy watchdog Freedom House designates as not free: China, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Pakistan, Tunisia, Algeria, Cameroon and Azerbaijan. According to the Geneva-based human rights monitor U.N. Watch, almost half of the new members fail to meet accepted democratic standards.

   The U.S. cannot fund such a human rights sham while our own Federal Prison System needs the money. The Federal Prison System requested a $500 million increase in fiscal year 2007. The committee report falls $400 million short of that request. This unmet increase is vital to grapple with a growing prison population.

   More than 188,000 inmates are confined in the correctional institutions of the Federal Prison System today. As a result, the Federal Prison System is operating 41 percent over capacity, up from 32 percent as of January, 2000. The number of Federal correctional officers cannot keep pace. In the 1990s, when inmate populations were approximately half as large, the prisons were at 95 percent staffing levels. Today, it has less than that. This has resulted in a significant increase in inmate assaults on correctional staff.

   According to the Federal Prison System data, assaults against correctional staff increased by 75 percent, and assaults against correctional staff with weapons increased by 61 percent. These are alarming statistics.

   This particular statistic concerns me because we have in my district the largest prison system, Coleman Correctional Facility.

   So my amendment is significant. I ask support of it. It is symbolic. It is important to pass it.

   Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment.

   The CHAIRMAN. The gentleman from Virginia is recognized for 5 minutes.

   Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

   The gentleman stated that this bill was below the Administration's request. We are above the Administration's request for prisons. We are not below.

   Secondly, our Subcommittee last year put together what they called a Gingrich-Mitchell Commission, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Minority Leader Mitchell, to look at the U.N. reform, and they have come up with a good package, and they are working on this issue.

   The State Department opposes this amendment. John Bolten up at the State Department says, and I quote, ``We must determine whether the U.N. Human Rights Council will be a body that the world will respect and take seriously.'' Its status is no longer characteristic of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights.

   That said, the United States will work cooperatively with other member states to make the Council as strong and effective as it can be. We will be supportive of efforts to strengthen the Council and look forward to a serious review of the Council structure and work.

   I have been as critical as anybody else, and I will stipulate perhaps more than anybody else, on the whole issue of the Human Rights Commission with regard to China, with regard to Sudan and with regard to these others, but this would complicate the Administration's efforts.

   The Secretary of State, Secretary Rice, is opposed to this. The State Department is opposed to this. The Administration is opposed to this.

   Change it by dealing with it through the Gingrich-Mitchell Task Force and put pressure on them, but do not complicate the life of John Bolten and Secretary Rice up there.

   Mr. Chairman, I yield 2 minutes to the gentleman from West Virginia (Mr. Mollohan).


   Mr. MOLLOHAN. Mr. Chairman, I rise in opposition to the amendment. I am not sure exactly what the gentleman is attempting to achieve here, but I really find myself in disagreement at both ends.

   I find myself in disagreement with the offset, certainly. However imperfect the U.S. Human Rights Council and its memberships may or may not be, I am not sure that taking this money from that organization for that purpose, even if it were to come from that account, would address the problem.

   I might point out that Chairman Wolf is extremely sensitive to human rights, and has been for a long time; and when he addresses human rights issues in this bill, he is very conscious about them. I really feel confident in the way that he has treated the overall State Department accounts, particularly as any of that account might be contributing to the U.N. Human Rights Council budget, if that is the focus of this offset, even though it comes from the international organizations, account which is a much broader account.

   On the other side of it, to increase funding for the Bureau of Prisons by $500,000, I am really pleased that the gentleman recognizes that we do need additional dollars within the Bureau of Prisons, and I agree that to a large extent the Bureau of Prisons is underfunded. It is underfunded in a lot of areas. If we are concerned about assaults on guards, if we are concerned about those kinds of issues, then maybe we ought to be looking for those types of programs that could be funded, but it would cost a lot more than $500,000 in the Bureau of Prisons, to would address education, training, and those kinds of programs that would be remedial with regard to prisoners; and we could reduce the concerns that he is trying to address with this offset.

   So on both ends, Mr. Chairman, I oppose the amendment.

   Mr. WOLF. Mr. Chairman, I close by saying let us do what we did in the Gingrich-Mitchell thing. The U.N. has made a lot of mistakes. John Bolten is no wallflower. I support what John Bolten is trying to do up there, and I don't think we should complicate the administration's life by doing this.

   I yield to the gentleman if he would like to say something.

   Mr. STEARNS. Well, Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I realize you are doing a wonderful job in your position here, and this, in a larger sense, is symbolic to show to the United Nations where our priorities are and to give an opportunity for some Members, like myself, to voice their concerns about this Human Rights Commission, and I thank you for your courtesy.

   Mr. WOLF. I yield back the balance of my time.

   The CHAIRMAN. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from Florida (Mr. Stearns).

   The question was taken; and the Chairman announced that the noes appeared to have it.

   Mr. STEARNS. Mr. Chairman, I demand a recorded vote.

See the original in the Congressional Record on Pages H4653 and H4654

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